Mathieu van der Poel (BKCP-Powerplus) answered the critics who railed against his decision to skip the U23 European cyclo-cross championships by surging to the lead in the Superprestige on Sunday with a strong second place finish in Ruddervoorde.
The Dutch rider decided to focus on the Superprestige at the expense of the championship race in Lorsch, Germany, and was criticized by new European champion Wout Van Aert (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace), who responded to Van der Poel's absence by citing a proverb, "the absent are always in the wrong".
"I think it takes courage to decide not to take part in the European championships," Van der Poel said, defending his decision. "It would have been fun, but even if I won the race I would not get many chances to wear the jersey. I'm racing most of my season in the Elite Men category. In the end I think it was a wise decision. Most other riders at the start today were fresh."
After a strong start to the season in the elite ranks, which included a victory in the first Superprestige round in Gieten, Van der Poel struggled in the U23 World Cup in Valkenburg, taking sixth, and again in the second Superprestige in Zonhoven, where he was fifth and lost the series lead to Sven Nys.
It looked as if first laps of the race in Ruddervoorde weren't quite going according to plan for Van der Poel, and after taking a tumble in the sand section during the second of ten laps, hel had to work hard to get back to the front. "I rode a different line and got stuck in deep sand. I then tried to move up with Kevin Pauwels but he rode just a notch too quickly and made me gasp for air. I had to recover for a long time. A few laps earlier I tried to attack but behind me Klaas Vantornout probably kept riding."
Van der Poel rallied, making the eight-man selection that came into the final lap together, but missed out on taking his second victory in the series thanks to the hard-charging Tom Meeusen (Telenet Fidea), who led the final lap through to the finish line. However, his second place today was enough to take the series lead from Nys by one point, with Dutch champion Lars van der Haar in third a further point behind.
"It could've been even better. I wanted to lead the race when entering the sand section but I made my move too early and rode in third place. It was too far to reach the sprint. I'm glad with second place nevertheless. Tom deserved the victory. Becoming the new leader is a nice bonus."
"All in all I'm pleased. After the races in Valkenburg and Zonhoven I lost a bit of confidence. I'm glad I'm back. I was too tired. An additional week of rest helped a lot."